Newspapers and automakers in same boat

What do newspapers and automakers have in common? A lot.

Both industries have broken business models, and the managements of both have dragged their feet to bring about meaningful change — resorting to the “band aid” approach instead.

The U.S. government’s decision to reject the GM and Chrysler restructurings as inadequate on Monday, as well as throw out the GM chief executive, is the right one. In fact, it took too long.

Sure, the decision is partly political: the AIG bonus debacle left the Obama administration with egg on its face after taxpayers shelled out billions to bail out the troubled insurer.

But the decision also shows that it’s time to “put up or shut up” when it comes to fixing a broken business model in autos: Either deal more aggressively with the systemic problems or go bankrupt.

The same thing should be happening with newspapers. But who will do the prodding for them?

In the meantime, as with the automakers, the product side bears the brunt of it. This adds additional risk: losing credibility with your customers, who can “vote with their feet.”

Would In-n-Out replace Arby’s in GV?

The Arby’s in Grass Valley, across the street from the Pine(less) Creek Shopping Center, has closed. “Thank you, GV. We will miss you,” reads a sign.

It’s a valuable asset, though: A retail space that *already* is zoned for a drive-through.

The city has cast a weary eye on approving new drive-in locations: for a Walgreen’s at the old Hills Flat store and a Starbucks in “Burger Basin,” for example.

Like Trader Joe’s, In-n-Out has a cult following, with many locals praying to the fast-food Gods that one will come here.

Will it? Doubtful. There’s one in Auburn and our population is flat. Heck, our car dealerships are disappearing.

In the meantime, the Arby’s space sits vacant, with peeling paint on the exterior. Note to The Union: You might want to remove your powder-blue news rack from the entrance and redeploy it.

St. Mary Academy of GV humming along

In January 2007 Mount St. Mary Academy of Grass Valley, the oldest continually running Catholic school west of the Mississippi, faced closure because of declining enrollment.

Now, however, it’s humming along, thanks to hard working and dedicated parents and parishioners.

On Saturday night, the school held its 16th annual gala and fundraising auction. Despite the deep recession, more people attended this year than last.

The Grass Valley Veterans Hall was packed and decked out in style: with gold and black baloons, white tablecloths, wait people, and a filet or grilled salmon (plus veggies) meal. Wine was included. Tickets were $55.

Many families donated items for the auction. We donated a weekend at our cabin in Tahoe, and the sheet was filled with names and bids. One mom offered to match the highest bid and donate the money to the school — a “twofer.”

Saturday night’s fundraiser was a big success, raising many thousands of dollars. Next year, the school expects to add some more teachers, and parents are phoning to inquire about enrolling their children next year. The problems in the public schools are raising concerns.

Mount St. Mary’s turnaround exemplifies the “can do” spirit in our towns.

County wins $300K grant to grow local business

Highlights from a newsy version of County Executive Officer Rick Haffey’s Friday memo, including a long-awaited dose of good economic news:

•The county won a $300,000 grant to provide loans for expansion of businesses and job creation. The deal referred to businesses in unincorporated Nevada County.

But as reported in November, grant money such as this could eventually help clear the way for businesses such as California Organics to occupy space in the former Broad Street Furnishings in Nevada City. The background is here.

Thanks to the county’s Kyle Thompson, who spearheaded the effort to land the grant. I enjoy my discussions with Kyle, a “rising star” in county government.

•Nevada County released a draft of its energy plan on Friday, meant to reduce energy use in county facilities. The plan calls for reducing energy use by 10 percent in the first year, 20 percent in the second year and 5 percent in the third year.

A copy of the plan is at county’s draft energy plan

•The county also intends to crack down on illegal roadside vendors who sell fruit, firewood, tools and other goods. It will start on Saturdays in April.

‘We’ve Got Scrubs’ opening in GV on April 1

Here’s an economic bright spot: I took a spin up to Colfax on Friday for a lunch appointment – convertible weather – and drove by a cool business that is opening on April Fool’s Day.

Next to Goomba’s on Colfax Avenue, it’s called “We’ve Got Scrubs,” and will sell all colors and sizes of scrubs for doctors, nurses and vets, along with other supplies for them.

Talk about a business that plays to our demographics! Good going and good luck. I keep wondering if there’s also room for more medical supply businesses in our area.

Besides being the HDTV capital, we could be the medical-supply capital. How about a store called “Bedpan Bargains”? TGIF.

‘Online’ coupons in The Union save you $$$

I’ve blogged before about the boom in online coupons. Startups such as nevadacountymall.com and goldcountryonthecheap.com are tapping the market with Web sites.

But a little-used feature in The Union also can let you clip coupons online – in this case ones that run in the print paper.

On Friday, I “clipped” a coupon for a $19.95 smog check from Magnussens auto dealership in Auburn by going to theunion.com.

Here’s what you do: Go to The Union’s “e-edition” on the Web. With the “e-edition,” you can read the print version of the paper online but also clip coupons that run in the newspaper.

I found the ad on page B3. The vendor, Technavia, provides a print feature for the page. Just hit the “print” button and voila, the coupon comes out on your printer.

My appointment for a smog check at Magnussens – “Home of the $19.95 Smog Special” – is tomorrow. I’ll let you know if the dealer won’t accept a coupon that is printed on a standard sheet of office paper, not newsprint, but I expect he will.

I’d gladly pay The Union for a subscription to this “e-edition.” With $19.95 smog checks, it would easily pay for itself.

I hope The Union does a better job of marketing this feature. This is a good example of its value.

Future news more partisan because of blogs?

Brit Hume of Fox News, of all people, is warning us that becasue of blogs, future news will be “more partisan.”

In accepting an award the other night in D.C., Hume said: “We’re getting bloggers and Web sites and all sorts of individual entrepreneurs, and we have a vaster menu of choices today than we’ve ever had.

“But I think that we also have the danger that everything will be presented from one political viewpoint or the other, and that the media that confront us are going to be more partisan than ever.”

OK, thanks Brit. Seems the media is doing just fine in presenting some partisan reports, with or without bloggers.

As one blog Think Progress.org pointed out: In the same speech, Hume thanked the MRC – an “unabashedly conservative outfit” – for feeding him reports as anchor of Fox News’s special reports. 

On course, conservatives make the same complaints against the New York Times and other publications.

I remember both sides making the same charges against the media even before Al Gore “invented” the Internet, or so he said.